It would be completely unfair to punish all gun owners for the crimes committed by a carload of imbeciles who recently slaughtered antelope with an AK-47 sytle rifle along a more than 50-mile stretch of road west of Casper. They shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.
But the fact is, the gun industry and its loud mouthpiece, the National Rifle Association, have made ownership of military-style weapons by civilians an issue they absolutely refuse to compromise on. As long as the NRA spouts the foolish, irrational argument that the Founding Fathers wanted us all to be able to own an AK-47 — or any weapon we desire — many observers will unfairly link responsible gun enthusiasts with those who endanger the lives of any people or wildlife they come near.
This outrageous poaching incident proves something we should all already know: No one needs a military-style weapon to hunt game animals. The misuse of such weapons and total disregard for everyone’s safety exhibited by these poachers makes reasonable people wonder why the gun lobby insists they must be legal to own.
There’s no need for assault rifles to be used by hunters, and there’s no justification for them to be used for home defense. There are plenty of weapons that can be used for both activities that are manufactured and legally accessible, so there’s no need for them to be made available to the miniscule number who want to own them solely to kill large groups of people or animals.
So let’s use some common sense, and strongly tell the gun lobby that it doesn’t speak for all gun owners. The responsible ones overwhelmingly (90 percent in some national polls) believe the government has the right to perform background checks for all gun purchases, even at gun shows, and to restrict criminals and the mentally ill from buying them. Even many NRA members acknowledge that owning an AK-47-style rifle isn’t necessary for homeowners or hunters.
People who buy the NRA’s position lock, stock and barrel are just pawns in a political game when they argue that the Second Amendment allows them to own any weapon they want to have. Some reasonable restrictions on weapons are necessary to keep the public safe from the actions of those who want to use the maximum firepower they can obtain so they can shoot up a political rally, a school, a shopping mall, workplace or range filled with wildlife.
Of course I know the Second Amendment says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. But it also says it in the context of “a well-regulated militia,” and never states there is a right to bear “all” arms anyone has manufactured.
As I write this, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Casper regional office was still investigating what happened on Friday, Sept. 26, when a witness saw an SUV with what appeared to be four men inside driving west of Casper on 33-Mile Road. Shots from what was described as an AK-47-style rifle were fired across the lane of oncoming traffic, and multiple pronghorn antelope were killed in a crime scene that covered more than 50 miles.
The number of animals killed wasn’t released by Wyoming Game and Fish officials, and probably not all of them had been discovered a full week after the crime. That’s a massive amount of land to search.
Casper Game Warden Daniel Beach told County 10, a news website based in Fremont County, “As the investigation continues, the case just gets bigger.” The animals were left to rot, prompting Beach to add, “You can only imagine what we are finding.”
I, for one, don’t want to imagine it, but I can’t stop thinking about it. A Game and Fish spokesman said it’s unusual for assault rifles to be used by poachers in the state, but it has happened before. No matter what punishment is meted out to those responsible for the Mile-33 Road antelope killings, it could easily happen again.
But we can make it much harder for killers to obtain them. The federal ban on assault weapons that passed in 1994 — the Brady Act — was allowed by Congress to expire in 2004, and the politicians we’ve elected haven’t had the guts to seriously consider passing any other gun restrictions out of fear of the powerful NRA lobby. Even when assault weapons are used by the criminally insane to shoot politicians, students, former co-workers and total strangers, federal lawmakers consider their political careers much more important than the safety of the people they represent.
I’m glad to see the response to the antelope killings has been almost universal outrage and a hope that justice is done. The maximum penalty for being convicted of the wanton destruction of a big-game animal is up to a $10,000 fine and/or one year in prison. I hope whatever judge is assigned to hear this case considers the vileness of the crime and realizes the court needs to send a strong message to anyone who might consider doing the same thing.
I wrote “almost universal” because some extremist, tea party types seem to feel compelled to use the mere reporting of such crimes to launch a preemptive strike against anyone who might try to use the occasion to take away their guns. Sure enough, a commenter to County 10’s coverage of the story had this to say:
“Why even bring the absurd and meaningless political construct ‘assault rifle’ into the discussion? Some criminal/fool shot and wasted (poached) some antelope. The type of firearm (or bow even) is immaterial. The crime is in the action, not in the perceived ‘scariness’ of the firearm used.”
The same commenter postulated a pretty wild conspiracy theory. “No one can prove exactly WHAT type of firearm was used, except to say it fired a 7.62×39 cartridge… or at least those were the cartridge cases left at the scene,” he noted. “How do we know whether or not somebody simply dumped ‘AK-47 brass’ at the site(s) to throw off law enforcement and/or discredit 7.62×39 gun owners?”
Posing such a question shows precisely why it’s important to publicize the type of weapon used to kill multiple antelope. If that fact were left out, it would have made it easier for the writer to focus solely on the madness of the crime, and not what weapon made it possible to carry it out. If it didn’t matter at all, surely he wouldn’t have felt it necessary to go to such ridiculous lengths to suggest someone left certain cartridge cases at the crime scene to throw Game & Fish off the trail of the “real” poachers, or just make anyone with a semi-automatic rifle look bad.
That’s the kind of defensive reaction gun owners need to avoid if they are going to separate themselves from those who blindly defend the use of assault rifles no matter what or how they are used to kill.